On Fireball Jawbreakers
I was probably about 10 years old when Fireball Jawbreakers where introduced into the South African market – or at least that was the age when I first become aware of them. Fireballs were an irresistible concept: bright-red, hard candy balls with a fiery-tasting exterior shell, and a pleasantly cooling bubblegum core. As soon as I first laid eyes on them at the Unit 1 Shopping Centre in Chatsworth I knew I had to have them. There were two immediate problems: firstly, my mother thought that they were too expensive and secondly, the packaging, with a picture of some dude in clear medical distress while eating one, convinced her that this candy was far too dangerous for my sensitive palate.
So instead of Fireballs my mother bought me a Lucky Packet, which, at that time, was the Mercedes Benz of South African candy. Kids would go fucking crazy for Lucky Packets, which were basically just flimsy, yellow paper bags with sweets and a “mystery” toy inside. But after encountering Fireballs, the Lucky Packet had lost its vice-like hold on me. The scales had fallen from my eyes and I saw it for what it really was: tiny, almost inedible pink sweets, accompanied by a dumb toy like a plastic top or a whistle. I didn’t want a freaking whistle. That was baby stuff. I wanted to live on the edge, the edge that only Fireballs – if the claims made on its wrapper were factually correct (which I was certain they were) – could deliver.
But my mother refused time after time to buy them for me. Thus, I had to unjustly wait months before I tasted a Fireball for the first time. I must admit that I am not proud of how I finally got hold of one.
If you’re squeamish turn back now.
I was walking through the soccer field at my primary school during lunch break when I spotted a distinctive, red sphere on the dusty ground. At first I thought it was a large marble – it currently being marble season at school – but closer inspection revealed that it was a fucking real-life, in-the-flesh Fireball! Some unlucky bastard, with more permissive parents, had obviously dropped it. I furtively picked it up and cleaned it. It was gorgeous, other-worldly, glossy and smooth to the touch, radiating danger and the taboo. It was also – and this is most likely my imagination – giving off a low-level heat in the palm of my hand.
Finding it was probably one of the top ten luckiest moments of my life.
Of course I ate it. I had to it. It was fate. Do you seriously think I cared that it had laid there in the sand for god knows how long? I was after culinary danger and I didn’t care if I broke the 5 second rule in my pursuit of it.
I devoured the Fireball in secret at home.
It was a revelation. Without doubt, it was the hottest thing I had ever eaten up until that point in my life – eye-tearingly so. I had to keep on removing it from my mouth to stop the burning. It was everything I had hoped it would be. But it wasn’t just hot, there was a really pleasant flavour there as well, which reminded me a little of the taste of Dentyne gum. A few months later I would discover, while accidentally biting into a piece of bark in a curry, that that flavour was called cinnamon. (It was at this point, incidentally, when I became a huge fan of cinnamon, or rather cassia bark which is a cheaper version of cinnamon. Cassia is what most Indian homes in South Africa use. I would actually recreationally chew on it for much of my teen years.)
When I eventually started getting my own pocket money I used it to buy so many Fireballs that I grew immune to their heat. I subsequently moved on to other obsessions such as Simba’s chili flavour Shooters chips as well as further exploring more obscure products in the candy-as-torture-object genre.
But I still like Fireballs. In fact, most years for my birthday I receive a care package from home filled with lots of South African products that I miss. Along with Chicks violet bubblegum (the most underrated gum in South Africa) are usually a couple of packs of Fireball Jawbreakers. They’re not as heavenly as Fireballs picked off the dirt of a Chatsworth soccer field but they aren’t bad at all.
Pravasan Pillay is a South African writer. He has published two chapbooks of poetry, Glumlazi (2009) and 30 Poems (2015), as well as a collection of co-written comedic short stories, Shaggy (2013). Pillay’s debut short story collection, Chatsworth (2018), is available for purchase from Dye Hard Press.